Fresh ingredients bring a bland recipe to life

June 27, 2012 

Some recipes look better in a cookbook than they are to the taste.

When I first started making low-sugar or diabetic recipes some 10-plus years ago, I found that some of the diabetic cookbooks were awful. I used the trial and error method to weed out the bad ones.

Few things are as disappointing as when the recipe looks promising and the end result isn't. Last week, I made an eggplant and ground meat casserole that contained seasonings and ingredients that my family likes. I taste as I cook to adjust seasonings and flavors, and this casserole never seemed to get any better.

My family agreed it was too bland. I couldn't understand, because it contained onions, garlic and even red pepper, but it just sat there.

The next day, I added the bland casserole to my fresh tomato sauce that I serve over spaghetti. Guess what? The casserole came to life. All that was lacking was the fresh-out-of-the-garden tomatoes. My family loved the pasta sauce and said they would eat this anytime that I would fix it.

If you still have eggplants and tomatoes in your garden or can find them at the farmers' markets or supermarket, give this makeover a try. Make the eggplant and ground beef and add to the tomato sauce.


1 pound lean ground beef

2 large eggplants, peeled and cubed, about 8 cups

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

2 cups chicken stock

3 slices of bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

Salt to taste

In a large skillet, cook ground beef, draining any excess fat. Add the eggplants, Worcestershire  sauce, garlic, red and white peppers. Saute, stirring for 10 minutes. Add stock, bread cubs and green onions. Set aside.


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup finely chopped onion,

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 large, ripe tomatoes (peeled)

1- 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or 1- 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil.

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano

3/4 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

In heavy skillet, heat olive oil and butter and add onion and garlic.

In another saucepan, place fresh tomatoes in water and bring to a boil. Remove quickly and plunge in an ice bath. This is the easiest way to peel the tomatoes. When peeled, puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

Add tomatoes to the skillet with the onion and garlic. Add eggplant-ground beef mixture. Then add basil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat for 30 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of Parmesan and remove from heat. Serve over your favorite pasta and top with more Parmesan cheese.

More on fresh peppers

"Just read your column and with jalapenos being plentiful, this is a great recipe," said Dora Harrison, who is a frequent contributor. "I love this relish on my hot dogs and hamburgers. My ex-husband used to love to mix this in his red beans and rice. It is great as a condiment along side meat, what ever you want to use it on or with.  I have shared this recipe for years, and everyone is so pleased they made it."


1 gallon whole jalapeno peppers -- to measure 1 gallon, just pack tightly in a gallon jar                    

8 large green tomatoes

3 pounds onions

6 large bell peppers (for color, use red sweet peppers)

I learned the hard way: Wear rubber gloves. Clean, wash and grind all the above ingredients. Marinate by sprinkling 1/2 cup plain salt over ingredients and stir occasionally for 3 hours. Drain and dispose of accumulated liquids.


Combine following ingredients in a large boiler pot:

5 cups white vinegar

1- 1/2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 tablespoon tumeric

5 cups sugar

Add chopped relish mixture and bring to a boil. Keep hot while canning but do not boil. Seal in hot sterilized jars with hot lids and rings. Makes about 12 pints. You also can half this recipe.

-- Submitted by Dora Harrison

Molasses cake

"Here's an old-time molasses cake recipe that may be close to what your reader is trying to find," Mary Webb said. "Doris Hatten used the syrup that she and her husband made and cooked on a wood-burning stove. When she gave me this recipe more than 40 years ago, she had to figure out what the temperature would be for an oven. Hope this helps."


1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup milk

2 cups pure cane syrup or molasses

4 cups sifted cake flour

2 teaspoons soda

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream butter until soft, add sugar and blend well. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Add milk, syrup, soda, and spices and blend well. Pour into a 13-by-9-2-inch greased and floured pan.  Bake at 300 degrees for 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched with fingertips. Cool in pan.

-- Submitted by Mary Webb


About a month ago, Jennifer Brady asked for a shrimp enchilada recipe similar to the one served at the old Toucan's restaurant in Gulfport, Miss. 

Mary Ann Wells of Long Beach, Miss., shared this recipe for shrimp or crawfish enchiladas a couple of years ago. Another good one is from "Enola Prudhomme's Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking" cookbook. It calls for crawfish, but I have used shrimp, too. I love the flavor and the fewer calories.


3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced red onion 

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

6 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced 

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds 

2 Tablespoons drained tiny capers

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups cooked crawfish tails (or shrimp)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

6 cups marinara sauce

16 large flour tortillas 

12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated

For the picadillo, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, raisins, almonds, capers, thyme, ginger and cinnamon; cook, stirring, over medium heat another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the crawfish tails. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread 2 cups of the marinara sauce over the bottom of a large shallow baking dish. Spoon1/4 cup of the picadillo 1 inch from the edge of a flour tortilla. Roll up and place, seam side down, in the baking dish. Continue with the remaining tortillas and picadillo. Pour the remaining 4 cups of sauce over the enchiladas, then sprinkle the gated cheese evenly over the top. Bake until the top is slightly browned and the cheese is melted, about 25 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 16 enchiladas.

-- Submitted by Mary Ann Wells

The following recipe can be doubled or tripled. The original recipe serves four, but I've tripled the recipe and served 12. It still works.


8 tablespoons reduced-calorie margarine

1 cup finely chopped onions

1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper

1- 1/2 cups evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup reduced-calorie soft-style cream cheese

2/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1/2 teaspoon ground oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 cup peeled crawfish tails or chopped boiled shrimp

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno peppers

1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

4 corn tortillas

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the margarine. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk, cream cheese and cottage cheese; cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to simmer, and add the oregano, salt and white pepper; cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

Add the crawfish or shrimp, green onions and jalapenos; simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add half the mozzarella and cook 1 minute. Set aside.

In a small cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the tortillas for 1 minute on each side. Place each tortilla on a serving plate and divide the crawfish (shrimp)-cheese filling into equal portions and spoon into the middle of each tortilla; fold the tortillas in thirds across the filling and turn them seam side down. Top with the remaining filling, sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella cheese and serve immediately. Serves 4.

-- From "Enola Produhomme's Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking"

We scream for ice cream

Since July 4 is only a week away, send me your favorite ice cream recipes. Reader Esther Tidwell of Gulfport, Miss., just got a new ice cream freezer and would like some good recipes. Hurry and send in these recipes.

Andrea Yeager, a freelance writer, can be reached at Send contributions or requests to Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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